LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though the Braves have spent the past couple of weeks evaluating the offseason riches they gained by acquiring Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson from the D-backs, they will open this season likely wishing they also could have kept Shelby Miller.
One can't criticize the decision to trade Miller in exchange for the long-term benefits Inciarte, Blair and Swanson should provide. But from a short-term perspective, the Braves find themselves with a suspect rotation that lacks depth and the front-line presence Miller could have provided.
When the Braves entered camp, they knew they could fill the final two spots with a couple of their young Major League-ready starters or possibly fill at least one spot with Jhoulys Chacin or Kyle Kendrick, who both came to camp with Minor League contracts. Kendrick was released Saturday and Chacin hit his first bump in the road when he allowed eight hits and three runs in three innings of Wednesday's 8-8 tie against the Cardinals.
"Chacin, other than this outing, he was pitching real well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "This outing, you just chalk it up as the third outing of Spring Training and we'll go from there."
Like there was not any reason to become overly encouraged as Chacin completed five scoreless innings over his only two previous starts, there is no reason for the Braves to become overly discouraged about the results a veteran pitcher produced on one mid-March afternoon.
But given the questions that exist beyond Julio Teheran in their rotation, it's not easy for the Braves to be comforted by what has occurred over the past week. Fifth-starter candidate Manny Banuelos allowed the Nationals four runs while working two innings in his Grapefruit League season debut Saturday. Then Bud Norris, who is projected as the No. 2 starter, halted his recent success by allowing the Tigers six earned runs over three innings Tuesday.
Maybe this was just one of those instances where within a five-day span a young pitcher struggled in his debut and a couple of veterans provided the reminder they're not going to put up zeros every day. But this doesn't change the fact that uncertainty abounds within Atlanta's rotation.
With Teheran, Norris and Matt Wisler locked in to fill the first three spots, the Braves view Chacin, Banuelos, Williams Perez and Mike Foltynewicz as their top candidates to fill the final two spots. Blair has been considered a candidate, but the fact that he has not been scheduled to make a start this week provides indication that the club would rather delay his arbitration clock and allow him to get a couple of more months of seasoning with Triple-A Gwinnett.
When Foltynewicz starts against the Nationals in Viera, Fla., on Thursday afternoon, he will be pitching in a game for the first time since a blood clot sidelined him in September. The Braves won't need a fifth starter until April 12. Thus, it makes sense that they are keeping open the possibility that Foltynewicz or Banuelos will have enough time to prepare for that fifth spot.
But to provide some indication as to how open-minded Gonzalez is about his rotation with Opening Day less than three weeks away, he casually mentioned Wednesday morning that he might even consider John Gant, a right-hander who has worked at least two innings in two of his three Grapefruit League relief appearances. Gant spent most of last season at the Double-A level, but he has not previously been considered a candidate to begin the season in Atlanta's rotation.
"I'm open-minded," Gonzalez said. "Everybody is a candidate."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.